6th Anniversary Blog

Posted on May 18, 2017

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Nothing Focuses the Mind like a Hanging — Errrr, Anniversary

Today is the 6th Anniversary of this blog, a time when I usually sum up my creative efforts for the year. And which explains the annual rush of May postings.

I originally started the blog because I was, how do they say – between opportunities – and wanted to tune up my writing. I was also spending a lot of time shooting film and writing has always been a structured way for me to think about and solve problems. The post I wrote on the second day, Once Black, is still the number one hit on my blog. Sigh. Also, I had zero discipline around the thing I claimed I wanted to do with my life and I realized there was almost definitely less of that on the plate than I had already consumed. At some point plans become dreams become regrets and if you want to stop that progression you need to take a first step, no matter how small.

As I’ve said many times, while peripatetic (one friend recently called me “my own think tank”) the time I’ve spent here has been 100% valuable. Not the least because I just today realized a fundamental truth about myself: I’m only happy when I’m creating. And while that could be a website with beautiful CSS, or a photo, or a story, or faux finishing a door, that is my juice, and you should be filling up with your juice, or doing things so that you can get your juice. Anything else is counterproductive. Because when it’s over, all you have is the people you loved, your reputation, and the things you created. Nobody is going to care about that spreadsheet or PowerPoint deck when they are laying roses on your grave in the clay and the rain. Sorry to break that to you, but somebody had to.

I firmly believe that whole thing about doing what you love, not the least because once I dipped my toe into that water, things really began to happen. Just the simple expedient of putting stories on this blog, a very low level of energy expenditure, and a fraction of time, has gotten me fantastic ROI. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in past recaps my stories have been “discovered” here by first Gink & Gasoline, then The Fly Fish Journal, then Orvis, then Writers on the Fly, and most recently Hatch magazine. The last four I have been involved with this year. FFJ published my first feature length short after publishing five short-shorts. I’ve read at WotF twice now, and Hatch just published one piece and asked for two more. That is pretty good for passive marketing.

And actually, even before this blog, I woke up one day and started devoting one weekend morning to writing: letters to the editor, magazine articles, a story, a website; it made no difference, as long as I wrote something, created something, started to build a portfolio, that was what was important. At the time I was painting houses. In a few short months I went from letters to the editor, to free magazine articles, to high-paying ($3500 20 years ago), to a writing job. Within several years, I was the Editor for the prestigious Microsoft Architecture Journal, working from home, still the best job I ever had. You just have to figure out what you want to do and pick an entry point – any entry point. Don’t wait for perfect; make some damn progress. Which, ironically people now pay me to say over and over again.

My main focus this year has been getting Fly Fishing Russia: The Far East done and published. I spent 6 years editing the 650 pp opus, then wasted two or three years and thousands of dollars on “book designers” before I decided to roll up my sleeves, learn InDesign and do the work myself. This takes up two nights a week, and sometimes Sundays. I’ve been on this book for 10 years. If you consider even 200 hours a year, or 4 hours a week, I still have over 2000 hours into it, and I can promise you have I spend more than that. You can build a house in 2000 hours. Since I work 6 days a week, it’s a huge time investment, but I believe in the project and want it to be pixel-perfect. When I’m done I will have writing, designing, publishing, and marketing to my skill set, a return to self-publishing which I first did 30 years ago. I don’t need a book deal. I’m going to make a book deal. I hit a small momentum hill for a few months, but I’m back at it now. There will be a party when that rolls out, for sure.

Speaking of 30 years ago, yesterday I saw a friend from college, a writer whose first novel I read off of a ditto machine, you know with the fragrant purple ink. Ah,  you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Anyway, Matt has made his living from writing ever since and his latest novel, Lovecraft Country, just got signed for a series by HBO. Matt has always been an inspiration and we had a great talk over a few beers. To vastly oversimplify his work, you could call him “whacky” which also kind of gives me permission to write whacky. Because you know, people buy his shit.

Talking about whacky, I started my novel, Boa, NM,  two years ago and made fantastic progress for two weeks, then got side tracked by Forest God for 2.5  years, which you can read all about here. By the way, today I really figured out how to fix it. Again. But, I used the anniversary as a forcing function to “finish” that and it’s out there for better or worse, and fixing it will just have to wait (hint, Paige needs to go a little crazy).

Boa is about, well how to describe it? It starts with a my character Jack Hook, who gets bombed, then his best friend gets bombed. Then it ends up going back 150 years to a town of gay cowboys who have a mail order cottage industry making transvestite gear for gay cowboys. (Turns out cowboy marriages were so common, and homosexuality not being out of vogue until 1930, nobody bothered to really record this lost history.) And gets tied together by the East and West India Trading Companies which still have functioning scions today. That doesn’t do it’s weirdness justice. Oh, and of course it’s really about trout fishing. Oh, and the dead friend’s husband did wet work for special forces and is kind of pissed. And did you know that NM and AZ were once split north and south instead of east and west? That is going to figure in.

How can I dare to write about gay men? Well Matt and I talked about this, his latest book being about black characters in the Jim Crow south. I said, “Matt, I have a question, I’m sure people are going to ask you.” He said “About how I can write about the trials and tribulations of black men?” I said, “No, how can you write about lesbian vampires?” (Another of his books, and by the way my very first finished story was about a lesbian bus.)  How does one dare write about old people, young people, dwarves, orcs, Canadians, Communists, gods, alien sentient slime mold, fly fishing guides, cops, fairies, gnomes, or sober people? You just do, a story comes to you, you write it. Not to sell it, but to do it justice. To tell it. Stories have a life of their own. Like Michelangelo, who believed the sculpture was already in the rock and he was just removing the excess, our job is just to remove the chaff and capture the wheat, the essence, the true part of the mythos. Every true story can be told so many ways. Look at the Arthurian tales, Robin Hood, so many others.

The one thing Forest God taught me was to be true to the story that comes to you. That’s why I say “All of my stories are true, some of them just happened yet.”  (To which my friend Bernard replied: “Yes, all of Jon’s short stories are true, and all of his true stories are short.”) And besides, Boa came to me in a dream, and I am not going to fight that. All my best stories come from dreams. So, my stories are either populated by things that really did happen (Don’t Tell Lucille, and The Lobster, in particular, are chock full of actual events), or they contain deep truths. The best, of course, contain both. I am, after all, not so much character or plot-driven as theme driven.

This year, I did get  back into the darkroom, although ironically a failure of the computer with my scanning software prevents me from sharing. I do have a huge backlog to clear there.

Went fishing once or twice, but not enough.

I continue to blog about Agile blogging on LinkedIn, especially  this year as I was looking for work and that is the simplest way I know to find it. That is, I put all of my really, really boring stuff elsewhere, but I should still get credit for the word count.

While in the beginning I tried to blog once/week, that has definitely fallen off. Only 32 posts this year,  248 total in 6 years. From which I can surmise that writing stories is harder than taking pictures. This year I wrote long, rather than frequently, including a bunch of writing about writing. So not as much, but more depth and length. This has been the trend for the last few years. As for categories it breaks down like this:

A few pictures but those are kind of directly proportional to my outings which have been few.

In total I wrote and published almost 60,000 words of fiction this year. The way I make this happen is that once I get the idea for a story, or start working on it, that story fills my consciousness. When I’m driving, when I’m lying in bed, when I’m in a meeting, when I’m trying to pretend I’m paying attention to nattering, in my head the story goes on and on.  So when I get a chance to sit down and type, a lot of it is just typing. I have actually hit over 2000 words an hour on stories using this method. (Matt considers 1000 words an extraordinary day, but he does it every day.) When I run out of whatever I worked out in my head and get stuck, I read it over, type the question I need to answer to continue, and go away to work on it away from the computer. I first learned this lesson when I worked for Microsoft at home and I completed a lot more writing in my head on the river than I ever did on the screen. The difference between my fiction and the Russian book is I have to be in front of my computer with two monitors to work on that at all.

Here is the fiction I posted this year:

  • Dead Man Blues – A wicked little tale of loss and redemption (aren’t they all). One reader commented “you write some dark shit,” to which the only reply can be “hee, hee.”
  • Destroying Angel – An entry to the Black Orchid Nero Wolfe competition.
  • Pigs of Minot – A science fiction short story
  • Still Falling rewrite – The final chapter of my book
  • The Lobster – A piece I wrote same day for the Stories of the Sea competition
  • Forest God – My uber-nemesis

In working through Forest God, I wrote 30,000 words on Story Crafting alone.

In addition I have 52 drafts here on WordPress, including close to 10,000 words on a new story Fishing the Dorian Gray. This explains how I’m able to post so exuberantly as the May deadline looms. Who knows how many words I’ve penned longhand into my trusty Moleskin, on post its, coasters, and other scraps of paper?

So, with over 100,000 words crafted, I’m on pace to write a novel, I may merely lack focus. But all of our hangings loom, and I am running out of time. Here’s hoping that this year I finish Mikhail’s book, and my book, and do all of the IT work my store needs.  Is that too much to ask?

 

 

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